Monday, November 14, 2011

Good fortune shines on Rams in rare win

It was strange and ugly, befitting the status of two teams with a combined record for 4-12 entering the game. But the Rams were beneficiaries of rare good fortune, with a potential game-winning field goal by Cleveland going awry on a fouled up long snap with 2 minutes 13 to play.

The Rams were able to run out the clock and survive for a 13-12 victory over Cleveland. The Rams improved to 2-7 overall with Cleveland falling to 3-6.

The Rams got their first touchdown since the New Orleans game two weeks ago _ and scored in the red zone, no less _ but they missed out on a couple of other opportunities and led by only 10-9 at the half.

Coach Steve Spagnuolo opted against a 52-yard field goal attempt on the Rams' first possession, even though it looked like Josh Brown would've made the kick with the wind at his back. When punter Donnie Jones' subsequent punt rolled into the end zone, the Rams had gained only 14 yards of field position on the change of possession with the Browns taking over on their 20.

With 10 of 11 plays gaining eight yards or less, the Browns got on the scoreboard first, on Phil Dawson's 44-yard field goal with 4:56 to go in the first quarter. This 3-0 lead was practically cause for parade in Cleveland, because the Browns had been outscored 58-6 in their first eight games.

The lead didn't last long. The Rams carved out a long drive of their own, and this one ended up in the end zone on a 7-yard pass from San Bradford to Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd beat Cleveland's best cornerback, Joe Haden, on the play by faking an inside post route and then breaking outside and into the clear.

But the Rams managed only one more score in the first half, and that came on a 29-yard Brown field goal after a drive stalled in _ surprise _ the red zone with 1:07 left in the half.

Earlier in the second quarter, St. Louis also committed a turnover near midfield when a Bradford pass was tipped and intercepted by Browns linebacker Scott Fujita.

Meanwhile, Dawson kept kicking field goals for the Browns. Field goal No. 2 came midway through the second quarter after a trick play. Wide receiver Joshua Cribbs lined up at quarterback in the wildcat formation, and then tossed a handoff to quarterback Colt McCoy, who then threw a 21-yard pass to backup quarterback Seneca Wallace.

After the halftime break, Dawson tacked on two more field goals to give Cleveland a 12-10 lead The Rams were moving the ball well after taking the second-half kickoff, but then came a rare fumble by Steven Jackson, fighting to reach the first-down marking after taking a short pass from Bradford.

Browns linebacker Chris Gocong forced and recovered the fumble, Jackson's first lost fumble of the season and just the 15th in more than 2,300 career touches. The Browns didn't score off that turnover, but it helped them out field position-wise, and Dawson's fourth field goal of the day gave Cleveland a 12-10 lead with 33 seconds left in the third quarter.

With injured players dropping left and right for the Rams, Jackson remained a constant. Jackson topped 100 yards rushing for the third game in a row early in the fourth quarter. But even thought Cleveland entered the game ranked 30th in run defense, most of the yards didn't come easy for Jackson.

A special teams takeaway helped the Rams regain the lead. Linebacker David Nixon, signed four days ago by the Rams to help on special teams because of injuries to Josh Hull and Bryan Kehl, did just that. He stripped punt returner Cribbs of the football, with linebacker Ben Leber recovering the fumble at the Cleveland 5.

Two runs by Jackson gained 11 yards and put the Rams in field goal range. But a third-and-3 pass attempt at the Cleveland 9 resulted in a sack of Bradford. So the Rams settled for a Brown field goal and a tenuous 13-12 lead with 7:42 to play.

Just how tenuous that lead was became apparent on the next play, when Brown's kickoff rolled out of bounds inside the 5-yard line. That's a penalty, with the ball spotted automatically on the Cleveland 40. Three plays later, the Browns had a first down at the Rams' 19, and time dwindling.

On fourth down from the 4, facing little more than an extra point, the Browns lined up for a potential game-winning field goal. Dawson is one of the game's most reliable kickers. But in one of the strangest field goal attempts you'll ever see, long snapper Brian Pontbriand's snap accidentally caroomed off guard Alex Mack's leg. The snap skipped back to holder Brad Maynard, but Dawson's timing was thrown off.

The kick was low and to the left and the Rams hung on for the victory.

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